Flexibility is an important part of fitness. Stretching is used to increase the flexibility of muscles. There are several different types of stretching.
- Static stretching involves slowly increasing motion until a mild stretch is felt and holding that position for 15-30 seconds. Static stretching is the most common type of stretch because it is considered the safest. Alternatives to static stretching can be dynamic stretching or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF).
- Dynamic stretching involves actively moving a muscle through a range of motion several times. This type of stretching has become increasingly popular among athletic teams because it moves the muscle in the same manner as it is used during athletic activity.
- PNF is commonly done with the assistance of an athletic trainer or physical therapist and involves contracting a muscle for several seconds before stretching the muscle.
All stretching should be done after a warm-up of 10-15 minutes – long enough to get your heart rate up and to begin to sweat. This is important because muscle tissue becomes more elastic after a warm-up and then stretching will be more effective and safer. A static stretch is generally held for 10-30 seconds and repeated 3-5 times. When stretching one should feel a slight “pull” but not stretch to the point of pain. It is best to slowly stretch into the desired position.
Children with tight muscles may be at a higher risk of injury. Injuries to the muscle, such as a muscle strain, are common in people who do not have the flexibility they need for their activity. Common muscles that are tight in young athletes are the quadriceps (thigh), hamstrings (back of the upper leg), hip flexors (front of the hip) and calf muscles. Muscles tend to be very tight in pre-teen and early teenage children because they are going through a growth spurt. When this happens, the bones grow before the muscles do and it takes longer for the muscles to adapt to the new body size. Children at this age need to pay particular attention to stretching when participating in activity.
Stretching needs to be done consistently in order to be effective. Generally, stretching once a day after a warm-up should be enough to help keep muscles loose. However, if the muscles are too tight, stretching frequency should be increased to several times per day. Stretching should not be painful, but the muscles do need to be challenged. Many times, stretching is part of a group warm-up. However, many athletes use this time to socialize rather than focus on really feeling a stretch in the targeted muscle.
Stretching is an important part of fitness that is often overlooked. A good stretching routine as a part of activity can help decrease muscle injuries and improve performance.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine specializes in diagnosing and treating sports-related injuries in youth, adolescent, and collegiate athletes. Services are available in multiple locations throughout central Ohio. To make an appointment, call 614-355-6000 or request an appointment online.